WE LEFT TYBURN and Dalton to try to narrow down the list of possible suspects at the hotel yesterday. Edward went off to call Donna so he could find out how Peter was doing, and to double check on Becca. Bernardo went off to get control of himself. He wasn't crying anymore, but he wasn't okay either. The rest of us went to the suite that Nathaniel, Micah, and I were sharing. The couch actually was big enough for R and R, plus Nathaniel and Micah, to sit in a row. Bram and Nicky found a piece of wall to lean against. I took the desk chair and faced them so I could tell them what I needed. Ru and Rodina volunteered, of course. Nicky said, "If you need me to do it, I will, but as your Brides, all three of us have a less complete connection to you than an animal to call."
"I thought Anita's happiness was your primary concern," Bram said.
"Then how can you suggest endangering Nathaniel like this?"
"Because if Denny dies, that will make Anita very unhappy. I've learned to try to stay ahead of her moods and wants, if I can."
Micah already had his arm across Nathaniel's shoulders, and now he hugged him and shook his head. "And the only reason you don't have more animals to call with you is because I asked you not to bring any other lovers besides Nicky. I trusted him not to intrude on our romantic weekend."
"I do my best," Nicky said.
"Of course it's not very romantic right now," Micah said.
"No, no, it's not," I said.
"It has to be me. I've done it once before with her, and our connection allows Anita to understand what I'm seeing and feeling more clearly than with anyone else here, even you, Micah." Nathaniel moved in Micah's arms, until they were entwined and he could kiss his fiance.
Micah kissed him back fiercely. "I don't want it to be you, but I know that if I tell you no, and Denny dies, then we'll always wonder if it would have made the difference."
I'd expected Micah to argue. He'd been my last defense against doing it. My pulse was suddenly thudding in my throat and my mouth was dry. I did not want to take Nathaniel anywhere near whatever had killed Bettina Gonzales. I did not want to endanger him again, damn it.
"I will do it," Ru said.
Nicky shook his head. "If one of the Brides has to do it, it has to be me."
"Then why didn't you volunteer? Anita is terrified and very unhappy. Even I can barely breathe," Rodina said.
"I've already said why I didn't volunteer--because we all know who's the best wereanimal for the job, and it's not us."
"What if I said no?"
Nathaniel untangled himself from Micah, and came to me where I was still sitting in the chair. He knelt in front of me and took my hands in his. With him on his knees and me sitting, our eyes were almost at the same level. I gazed into those beautiful eyes that always undid me if I looked too long. He leaned in and kissed me gently. My eyes were hot, my throat tight. Was I really going to cry? Surely not, not me. I had been the tough-as-nails vampire hunter once. I'd have liked to think I was crying for Denny, but I wouldn't lie to myself, and that wasn't why I was on the verge of tears. I didn't cry before it was time, and Nathaniel was safe in front of me.
"You can't keep being so afraid you'll lose me that we can't live our lives, Anita."
Rodina spoke from the couch. "Don't steal your victory before it's won, my queen."
I gave her an unfriendly look. "You stay out of this."
"I would give my life in place of Nathaniel's, because I can feel how much you love him and how much it would hurt you if he died, but he is right, my queen. You must be brave and allow Nathaniel to be brave with you."
"But what if it all goes wrong?"
"It won't," Nathaniel said.
I looked deep into his eyes and said, "You can't promise that."
He smiled. "Get them to let us have Nicky with us, to help wrangle me once I'm a big, bad leopard."
"That's a good idea," Nicky said.
I nodded; it was. "I'll talk to Tyburn about it."
"He'll say yes," Rodina said.
"How can you be sure?" I asked.
"He's gone too far out on the limb to quibble at one more inch."
I wanted to poke fun at her wording, or at least make a smart-ass remark, but I couldn't think of anything clever to say. I kissed Nathaniel and Micah good-bye and went to find Tyburn, with Nicky and Rodina trailing behind me. Ru stayed with Bram to watch over my two fiances. I'd keep them both as safe as I could for as long as I could. I left Nathaniel with two bodyguards and even Micah armed, and went to finalize the plans to take Nathaniel with me into the field, where so much could go wrong.
BY THE TIME we finished the discussion, Tyburn's people had a complete list of the restaurant staff and all the customer names they were certain of for that day. Hotel management had also given up a complete list of staff and people staying at the hotel. I got the impression that they would have given up the complete ingredient list to the secret sauce, if it would make this all go away and not give them the reputation for being "that hotel, you know the one where the bridesmaids were murdered." I honestly didn't care what their motivation was as long as they kept being this cooperative.
Tyburn and his people would follow the names on the lists and see if they could find the killer from their end, and see if he/she/they/it would lead them to Denny. We'd look for Denny, because in that moment I didn't give a rat's ass if we caught the killer but lost her. Part of wisdom is being honest with yourself, and more than justice, I wanted to find Denny alive and well, or as well as possible. I did not want to have to stand over her dead body and imagine what her last minutes of life had been. No, just no.
Nicky, Edward, Olaf, and I had put on all the gear we'd brought with us, or most of it.
I was wearing the body armor vest that was specially made for curves men didn't
have, the two wrist sheathes complete with silver-edged blades. I didn't know if this monster gave a shit about silver or steel, but most of the things I hunted didn't like silver. The knives were for emergencies; the guns were the main thing. I'd tried to stop carrying my Browning for work, but I'd missed it too much. So it was back in a thigh holster over the tac pants. The Sig Sauer P238 .380 went in a MOLLE-rigged holster on the front of the vest for a cross draw. I had my AR-15 M4-styled carbine in a tactical sling. The AR was chambered in 6.8 SPC for a bit more bang for my buck. I was also using frangible rounds, which shattered once they entered a target, so if I shot Bad Guy A, the round wouldn't go through him and into Good Guy B. Frangible did mean that if I missed my target and hit someone else by accident, it would be bad, but I didn't plan to miss. I'd given up the knife that usually rode on my back, under my hair, so I could put my Mossberg 500 Bantam in a gun sock or a sleeve attached to MOLLE straps on the back of my vest. I carried the sleeve angled across my back for a right-handed cross draw over my shoulder. If I'd been sure we wouldn't be going into underbrush or some of the overgrown places I'd seen, I'd have just put both guns on tactical slings and pushed them back as needed. But they got tangled in thick brush that way, and I didn't want to get hung up in the trees. I had my cross tucked inside my shirt even though I doubted what we were hunting would care about holy objects, but it was like the extra ammo that I had in pouches and pockets on the vest and pants--better to have it and not need it than to die because I didn't have it. The last thing I added were earplugs that let me hear, until the shooting started, and then they'd lower the decibels and save my hearing.
Bernardo wasn't with us yet, but I knew he'd be well equipped. We all preferred different handguns and shotguns, and we all had personalized our ARs.
I stood there, decked out for monster hunting or a small war, in the bathroom of a hotel suite that was almost a twin of our room, with a police videographer about to record Nathaniel changing shape into a huge black panther. Tyburn agreed to Nicky being with me to help me control the wereleopard. I didn't really need help with Nathaniel in any form, but since Olaf was going to be with us, and we were hunting monsters, I wanted at least Nicky with us. I'd tried to include Ru or Rodina, because why not? The worst Tyburn could say was no. No big surprise. But Tyburn was going out on a limb just using a wereleopard to track a missing person. Including just one civilian put him further out on that limb; four would have been too much weight to bear, so I had to be happy with Nicky. I was happy, but I'd have been even happier if Nathaniel wasn't with us.